The Attributes of God—A New Approach

The Doctrine of God is usually approached using a systematic theology model, i.e. what we know about God from the Bible is classified into a logical system.

What follows is an alternative approach.

  1. God’s Power
  2. God’s Faithful Love
  3. God’s Justice
  4. God’s Knowledge

Part 4. God’s Knowledge

Part four in the series on The Theology of God.

God begins to reveal this attribute very early:

  • when Adam and Eve try to hide in Genesis 3, God demonstrates that he knows where they are.
  • And then a few chapters later we have a story that tells of God’s exact knowledge of the future as well:
  • Abraham was old and had no children, but God foretells precisely what will happen:
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Part 3. God's Justice

Part three in the series on The Theology of God.

  • A lot of people struggle with stories in the Old Testament of God’s judgement

    • Sometimes women and children are wiped out as well
    • How can a God of love do that?
    • Is the Old Testament God a different one, an angry God?
  • This attribute of God is revealed in stages in the Old Testament. The most important ones contained in Genesis are:
  1. The Fall: God responded with

    • Fairness—the punishment matched the crime
    • Consistency: they would die (immediately spiritually, and eventually physically)
    • But he provided for them both physically and spiritually
  2. Cain
    • God is amazingly merciful to this murderer
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Part 2. God’s Faithful Love

Part two in the series on The Theology of God.

If Genesis 1:1 begins to reveal God’s power, then the second attribute that is revealed is that he is relational.

  • We get the first hint of this in 1:27 where mankind are created in God’s own image.
  • In 2:8–14 God lovingly creates Eden as a beautiful place for Adam to live.
  • In 2:18 his compassion for Adam leads to the creation of Eve
  • 3:8 implies that he had a daily relationship with them.
  • At the heart of Genesis 3 is a damaged relationship and a promise of future restoration
    [read more...]

Part 1. God’s Power

The first part of the series on The Theology of God introduces the concept of this way of approaching God’s character and attributes, and begins the series by looking at God’s self-revelation of his power.

In addition to Genesis 1 & 2, the main texts are:

  • Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place…”
  • Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
  • Genesis 15 links this revelation to the covenant with Abraham: “Gaze into the sky and count the stars…”
  • In Exodus God’s power is revealed as being saving.
    [read more...]

The Attributes of God—A New Approach: Introduction

Traditional Approach

The Doctrine of God is usually approached using a systematic theology model, i.e. what we know about God from the Bible is classified into a logical system.

  • God’s attributes are classified into headings, sometimes under headings like:

    • God Communicable and Incommunicable attributes (Reformed model)
    • God’s Greatness and Goodness (Millard Erickson)
    • What God is (Attributes of God) and What God does (creation, salvation etc.)

Alternative Approach

  • While such an approach is very useful, it is not how God has chosen to reveal himself.
  • Instead, God has chosen, for the most part, to use stories—historical accounts of his interactions with the universe and especially with human beings.
    • God’s attributes rarely found in the abstract, but usually as part of events that were recorded.

      (The closest we have to systematic presentations would be some of the Epistles, such as Ephesians or Romans.)
    • He reveals himself primarily through relationships (e.g. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Nation of Israel, David, and through Jesus).
    • Particular attributes of God are often revealed in each story. e.g. his faithfulness to Abraham in keeping his promise.
  • If the traditional approach is known as Systematic Theology, then this alternative would be Biblical Theology.
Systematic Theology Biblical Theology
Organize truth into a logical system Ask how God has organized truth
Doctrine of God: divide his attributes into categories How has God decided to reveal his nature and character to us?
Good as an end-point The best place to start
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Holy Spirit Baptism

The subject of Holy Spirit Baptism has been very divisive. Typically people are polarized into two camps:

  1. At the moment you become a Christian you receive the Spirit.

    • “Baptism with the Spirit” happens at the point of conversion.
    • There may be later “re-fillings” but all Christians have the Spirit
    • Characteristic of non-Charismatic evangelicals and Third-wave Charismatics such as the Vineyard,
  2. “Baptism with the Spirit” is a second experience after conversion (sometimes called the doctrine of subsequence)
    • There are two kinds of Christians, those who have been Baptized and those who have not.
    • Some groups, such as traditional Pentecostals, would say you must speak in tongues to be baptized.
    • Characteristic of Pentecostals and many Charismatics
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Is it wrong to Celebrate Christmas?

Many things about Christmas have pagan origins. Does this mean that by participating we are opening ourselves to the occult? What about Christmas trees, yule logs, lights, mistletoe and even the date of December 25?

When we look deeper, huge parts of our culture have pagan origins, from the names of the days of the week, the months, common personal names and place names.

One pagan website points out that

  • a bowl of cereal is named after Ceres, the god of agriculture
  • Insomnia comes from Somnus the god of sleep
  • Nike is the Greek goddess of Victory
  • Cars are named Saturn, Taurus etc.
  • (But note that this site is wrong about Easter)

Many people celebrate Halloween, which has much more obvious pagan origins, and some music and new-age practices have explicit connections.

I am going to suggest we can divide these cultural elements into three categories:

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The Gospel Pt.6 - What do you tell a person do to become a Christian?

The answer to this might seem very easy to some people. The Arminian might respond, “Repeat the words of this simple prayer after me”, or “Just ask Jesus into your heart”.

Others might say, “If someone is not a Christian, then they are dead in trespasses and sins and so can’t do anything”.

I believe what Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But on the other hand Jesus very frequently told people to come to him, implying that this choice was available to them.

We have to maintain the tension between:

  • on the one hand that God is sovereign, salvation is his work, and he saves whom he will,
  • and on the other hand that we are both responsible and active in the process. (We do not wake up in the morning to discover God has made us a Christian overnight.)

The starting point must be that the Holy Spirit is working in a person, even before they are born again (otherwise they would have no spiritual interest). It is possible to resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) up to a point, but ultimately God can break through any resistance (e.g. Paul’s salvation).

The second assumption is that the words of the gospel are like seeds which the Spirit can bring to life. So we don’t tell people that they are required to trust in Jesus yet cannot. We tell them to trust him with the confidence that the Spirit is the one who gives power to these words.

The third assumption is that assurance is the work of the Spirit, not our job. So we don’t say, “Now you have prayed this prayer, you are a Christian.” We say, “keep seeking God until you know you have a new spiritual life within you.”

So now back to the question itself—what must a person do? The simple answer is “repent and believe”, but this needs some explanation, and raises an important question, “How much do you need to know to become a Christian—is there a minimum?”

I think there are three things you need to know:

  1. Who God is
  2. What God offers
  3. What God requires

Here are my thoughts, taken from an outline of a sermon on: "What does a person do to become a Christian?"

1. Who God is:

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The Gospel Pt.5 - How do we Preach Repentance Today?

The command to repent is right at the core of the Gospel message preached in the New Testament, but repentance sits very ill with today’s self-righteous society. Three possible approaches are:

  1. Concentrate on preaching to those with obvious moral failings
  2. Spend time going into more and more detail about the required perfection in our thought life etc.
  3. Edit repentance out of our Gospel

Unwilling to limit the gospel to the obviously immoral (a), to focus on moralism (b) or to change the Gospel (c), I want to find a way of convicting people of their most important sin—failure to love and acknowledge God as their creator and Lord.

The second target I want to hit is the politically correct pluralism that says: “I am not against your god—he is fine for you. I am not his enemy, I am just neutral in this whole god debate.”

The reality is that we are either for God or against him. But how do you convince people of that?

My suggestion is an approach in which we start with what God is doing—He is involved in a cosmic struggle to root out every form of evil and injustice in the universe. Given this situation, not to be on God’s side is actually to help his enemies.

This is especially true when you consider that the forces of evil are united by one thing: Denial of God’s rights as their Lord.

So if you do not acknowledge God, then you are siding with his enemies

[read more...]
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